Fay rolls across Florida as storm, not hurricane

By MATT SEDENSKY, Associated Press Writer
12 minutes ago

NAPLES, Fla. - Tropical Storm Fay moved inland Tuesday after making landfall in southwest Florida, bringing soaking rains and gusty winds but failing to become a minimal hurricane as was a possibility. 
Traffic was light in Naples as rain swept roads littered with palm fronds and other minor debris. There was street flooding in spots and minor storm surge damage was reported in Everglades City to the south.

"We're still here," said Corey Knapp, resident manager of the Ivey House, a bed and breakfast in Everglades City. Water was knee deep on some side roads, but he said the storm was not as bad as he expected.

Diana Eslick, an assistant manager at a 7-Eleven near the beach in Naples, said the storm hadn't disrupted her morning at work: "So far it's going good. We have power and everything. It's just been windy and rainy."

The main thing she was preparing for was hungry surfers looking for food before they start taking advantage of Fay's waves.

At 8 a.m. EDT, the center of the sixth named storm of the Atlantic tropical storm season was located about 30 miles southeast of Fort Myers and was moving toward the northeast, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph expected to gradually weaken through the day.

Forecasters had predicted a 10 percent chance Fay would bring hurricane winds, which start at 74 mph, but that didn't happen.

Flooding remained a concern as Fay heads up the Florida peninsula, with rainfall amounts forecast between 4 and 10 inches. The storm could also push tides 3 to 5 feet above normal and spawn tornadoes.

Most businesses opted to go without any shutters or other window protection. Of those that did, some plywood carried messages aimed at major storms from the past - "Pop Off Charley" and "Oh Wilma!" among them.

With no major Florida hurricanes in the past two years, officials were worried complacency could cost lives as they repeatedly urged people across the state to take Fay seriously. But no storm-related deaths or major injuries have been reported.

Florida Power & Light reported about 58,000 homes and businesses without power in South Florida early Tuesday, the largest number in Collier County, where 28,000 were in the dark.

After crossing the Florida Keys without causing major damage Monday, Fay lumbered ashore about 5 a.m. Tuesday at Cape Romano, just south of Naples, with sustained winds of about 60 mph. Cape Romano is the same spot where Hurricane Wilma, a Category 3 storm, made landfall in October 2005.

In the Tampa Bay area, Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties lifted evacuation orders affecting mobile home residents and others in vulnerable areas when the storm failed to reach hurricane status. But schools and government offices remained closed.

"I think we're going to all enjoy a nice summer day," said Sally Bishop, Pinellas County's emergency management director.

Before landfall, Fay stirred unpleasant memories for many in and around Punta Gorda who rode out deadly Hurricane Charley in 2004.

"I am scared," said Monica Palanza, a Punta Gorda real estate agent who watched trees topple on her neighbors' homes when Charley reached Category 4 strength - the second-strongest level - just north of Punta Gorda. "You can never be prepared enough."

On Monday, as Fay headed toward the peninsula, schools and many businesses closed, even miles to the east in the Miami and Fort Lauderdale areas.

Southwest Florida International Airport near Fort Myers operated normally Monday, but airlines postponed about 140 flights Tuesday until evening hours, spokeswoman Victoria Moreland said.

Warnings to people to take precautions were issued as Fay spread rain and sent wind gusts of up to 51 mph over the Keys on Monday.

Monroe County Mayor Mario Di Gennaro estimated 25,000 fled the Keys before Fay hit there Monday afternoon.

The state took every step to make sure it was prepared. National Guard troops were at the ready and more were waiting in reserve, and 20 truckloads of tarps, 200 truckloads of water and 52 truckloads of food were available for distribution.

As it moved though the Caribbean, Fay was blamed for at least 14 deaths in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, including two babies who were found in a river after a bus crash.


Associated Press Writers Brian Skoloff, Kelli Kennedy and Travis Reed in the Keys, Christine Armario in Tampa, Tamara Lush in Punta Gorda, Lisa Orkin Emmanuel in Miami, Bill Kaczor and Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee and Sarah Larimer in Orlando contributed to this story.